KYIV, Sept. 27 - The top U.S. military commander has said he recommended that the United States provide lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine to help the country "protect [its] sovereignty" amid a conflict with Russia-backed separatists, RFE/RL reported Wednesday.
General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 26 that a proposal to provide lethal aid to Ukraine was awaiting a decision from the White House.
"In my judgment, from the military perspective, Ukraine needed additional capabilities to protect their sovereignty," Dunford said when asked why he supported the provision of lethal weapons.
In particular, Dunford said, "we felt [that the] ability to stop armored vehicles would be essential for them to protect themselves."
Under President Donald Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, the United States provided nonlethal military aid such as radar equipment and night-vision goggles to Ukraine, but Obama declined to provide lethal aid out of concern that it might escalate the war between Kyiv's forces and the Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian authorities have urged the United States to send weapons and have asked in particular for portable Javelin antitank missiles, which soldiers in the conflict say are needed to fend off attacks from tanks and self-propelled artillery.
Dunford said that the Pentagon, in reviewing Ukraine's defenses against fighters equipped by Russia, detected a "gap" between Ukraine's defensive capabilities and its needs.
"We just looked at it as a military gap that existed, and if that gap was filled, it would increase the probability the Ukrainians could defend themselves," he said.
The U.S. special envoy for negotiations on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Kurt Volker, has also advocated providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine.
In an interview after his appointment in July, Volker told Current Time TV -- the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with Voice of America -- that it would help Kyiv counter Russia's "large, large military presence" in eastern Ukraine.
The conflict there has killed more than 10,000 people since it began in April 2014, after Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and fomented separatism across much of the country following the ouster of a Moscow-friendly president. (rfe/ez)